TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – At some point this season, whether early, late or in-between, Ben DeLuzio will go through a slow stretch at the plate.
That’s just a fact of life in baseball, which can punish even the most talented players with slumps and dry spells.
But after a season in which he sputtered through the worst slump of his life – and emerged on the other side – DeLuzio, now a junior, feels he’s much better prepared for when things aren’t going his way.
As a result, he feels like a better player, too.
“Last year was definitely a learning experience,” DeLuzio said. “Looking back on that, I feel like I’ve grown tremendously on and off the field and I honestly just can’t wait for the season.”
He doesn’t have to wait much longer. DeLuzio and the Seminoles begin their 2016 campaign Friday with a three-game series against Rhode Island. First pitch on Opening Day is set for 4 p.m. on Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium.
Florida State enters the season looking for its first College World Series appearance since 2012. And if the new-look Seminoles get there, DeLuzio will likely be a big reason why.
At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, DeLuzio is perhaps the most physically gifted player on the roster.
He’s certainly the fastest.
A former two-sport athlete at Orlando’s The First Academy, DeLuzio ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds, earned a few football scholarship offers and turned down pro baseball after the Miami Marlins selected him 80th overall in the 2014 MLB draft.
It’s the kind of speed, FSU coach Mike Martin said, that can put a scare into opposing fielders. And DeLuzio held up his end of the bargain, leading the Seminoles with 16 stolen bases in 2013 and 15 stolen bases in 2015.
“I’m not exaggerating,” Martin said, “he’s one of the top five fastest guys that I’ve ever coached.”
High praise from a guy who coached Deion Sanders.
But whereas running came easily for DeLuzio, hitting proved to be a different story.
He hit .281 as a freshman, hardly an eye-popping figure, but enough to be optimistic about the future.
Then when his average sunk below .200 for much of the 2015 season, without many walks to help offset it, concerns about DeLuzio’s offensive production started to grow.
The harder DeLuzio pressed to break out of his funk, the worse things seemed to get.
“When you’re in a little slump or something like that,” he said, “it can get going really fast.”
Hoping to spark something, FSU’s coaching staff moved DeLuzio around in the lineup and midway through the season put him on the bench for a few games.
A lingering wrist injury didn’t help matters, either.
It wasn’t an easy time, but FSU assistant Mike Martin Jr., said that the way DeLuzio handled himself was a far better indicator of his makeup than anything he could do on the field.
“Any time you have to make a move for the betterment of the club, when somebody’s really in a rut, you’re going to find out what they’re made of,” Martin Jr. said. “He was a great teammate.”
Finally, as FSU rounded into the final stretch of the season, DeLuzio started to round into form.
Through a correction in his swing mechanics – his hands and his elbow were subtly out of position, lengthening his swing and throwing off his timing – and simply getting more at-bats, DeLuzio finished the season on easily the best run of his career.
Through the last 25 games of the season, DeLuzio hit .329 with two home runs, 16 RBIs and nine stolen bases.
That helped the Seminoles to an ACC tournament championship and a run to the NCAA Super Regionals.
“No matter how bad you may start, you can still finish strong,” DeLuzio said.
It’s that strong finish that has DeLuzio and the Seminoles feeling optimistic as Opening Day approaches.
FSU enters the season without its top hitter (DJ Stewart) and top pitcher (Boomer Biegalski) from a year ago, and will need contributions from several freshmen and junior college transfers.
But a productive DeLuzio would go a long way toward softening those losses.
“He can scare opponents,” Martin said. “He can mess you up. I mean … the field changes. That’s what speed does for this game.”
This year’s Seminoles will rely on DeLuzio both on the field and in the locker room.
With Stewart and veteran Josh Delph both gone, he’s FSU’s only returning starter in the outfield.
Martin has said that the Seminoles will likely rely on a committee in left and right field, and that he expects freshmen Jackson Lueck and Donovan Petrey to be in the mix.
Which means it will be up to DeLuzio to help along the newcomers, the same way Stewart and Delph once did for him.
“It’s definitely different,” DeLuzio said. “…I guess it’s my turn to take on that role. I played football in high school. I was vocal and everything. It’s different on the baseball field, but I’m definitely ready for that and look forward to it.”